Author's Note: Be warned, emotions lie ahead... I have nothing more to say. -_-
Pokemon is not mine, Shawn and other characters are.
Thanks as always to Vicious Reader and Guri for proofreading.
A Traitor's Choice
Shawn's breathing quickened at the heavenly sight before him, Cheri gazing back over her shoulder with a smouldering look in her entrancing emerald eyes, licking her lips in anticipation. She raised her fluffy tail a bit higher, arresting his gaze with an even better view of her treasure box, the lips puffy and damp with her arousal, wanting, needing him.
She arched her spine and gave her rump that adorable playful wiggle, beckoning to him, making his shaft strain inside his boxers. Why hadn't he removed them yet? He didn't know, but he placed his hands on the waistband to rectify this gross oversight, preparing to throw himself upon his mate with everything he had.
Before he could move, Cheri... imploded.
His eyes widened in horror at the puff of smoke rising from the place she had stood, the thunderclap still echoing, his shriek of anguish oddly having no sound. Nash's maniacal laughter echoed in his ears, seeming to come from everywhere and nowhere, taunting his inability to protect her from him.
He sat up with a gasp, his cry of grief and anger now actually sounding in his ears, cutting off as he realized it was only a dream. Cheri's frantic pawing at him came into focus a split second later, her silhouetted form looming over him. 'Shawn! Shawn! Wake up!'
He shook his head to clear it, those last vivid images still sticking resolutely in his mind. That had gone directly from pleasant to horrible, not taking the time to pass go. What had...?
Cheri was looking at him worriedly, concern visible in her lamp-like eyes even in the low light. "Are you alright? Right after that loud noise outside, you suddenly just..."
He nodded, still confused about what had just awoken him. That had sounded a lot like... "Yes, I'm alright. Just a bad dream. You heard that too?"
"Yes, I was just about to go check it out, when..." She licked his cheek comfortingly.
It suddenly clicked in his awakening mind, just what that sound had been. A teleport spell! 'Marek? Oh god, it had better be. But, why? Where would he be going?'
Frantically, he grabbed his sword hilt, ready in case it WASN'T Marek, rolling away from Cheri to the front of the tent. Strangely, the zipper was open halfway, letting in a hint of moonlight. 'I'm SURE I closed that.'
Not giving any potential attackers time to react and leaving Cheri in his wake, he pulled it open and dove out in a smooth motion, drawing his sword from its invisibility as he finished the move with an Earth powered leap, carrying him all the way over to Marek's tent in a blur of movement. He inwardly cursed his slow reaction time. 'I'm getting soft. I've been relying on intruder alarm wizardries for way too long now.'
His eyes flicked warily through the darkness, ready to strike out with any number of potent elemental attacks, the pale moon casting ominous shadows from every which way. Still, it was easy to see that their little alcove was empty. 'All clear, or so it seems.'
Cheri poked her head out of the tent, looking about with narrowed eyes. "What-"
He cut her off with a wave of his hand, muttering the words to activate the wizardry revealing spell, all senses on high alert as he strained to see any movement in the surrounding foliage.
He breathed a sigh of relief, relaxing from his combat crouch as the residues of a teleportation wizardry came into view, the torn space-time fabric beginning to repair itself, the spell matrices overlapping it. Someone leaving, not coming. "It's alright I think," he called to his mate, striding closer to examine the spell.
"What do you mean, "you think"?" she questioned, extricating herself completely from the tent. He didn't answer, preoccupied with the residues in front of him.
He peered closely at the trails, the remaining Speech characters drifting slowly apart into a purple fog, some still legible, although barely. In the stillness of the night, he could just hear her soft footfalls as she padded up behind him, her stiff legged stance still wary as she stood by his side.
"What are you looking at?"
He nodded absent-mindedly. Yes, the power signature was clear, heavy bits of the other wizard's unique 'fingerprint' clinging to the spell, indicating the urgency of its construction. But why had he been in such a rush? And where had he gone?
"It was Marek. He's gone off... somewhere." He muttered a brief phrase in The Speech, capturing the residues for tracking, before turning on his heel to retrieve his things from the tent. Marek could still be in trouble of some kind, but facing it barefoot and in boxers wasn't a pleasant notion. It couldn't be something overly serious, or he would have sounded an alarm. More likely he had gone off in search of... something.
"Marek? How strange. He was in our tent earlier too you know."
Shawn froze, turning back to his mate. "He was?"
"Yes. I heard someone come in, and when I looked up, he was standing at the entrance. He said something about hearing a strange noise, and wanted to check it out."
Shawn's brow furrowed, considering this new oddity. What the heck was Marek up to? This was very, very strange. "As soon as I grab my stuff, we're following him. I don't like this at all." A sudden new thought struck him. What if Marek had surprised a potential attacker? Nash COULDN'T have gotten out already... could he?
He almost sprinted back to the tent, Cheri calling after him as urgency marked his step once more, possible scenarios whirling through his mind, now feeling fully awake.
The tent lit up with a flare, making him blink rapidly in the sudden blindness, his haste making him put too much force into the Light element. Hurriedly, he scrambled into his pants and shoes, ignoring a shirt. Not necessary. Just the-
His hand froze in mid-air, reaching to snatch his belt from its place of rest. Gone. He KNEW he had left it here, he ALWAYS did. He pushed his bag out of the way, searching the tent floor all around it. 'What the... Did Marek...?' It wasn't there, the strip of leather with the five colourful spheres nowhere to be found.
He almost bowled Cheri over as he flew out of the tent, muttering the tracking spell from memory, his mind working at a fever pitch. Why would he take the belt? Why would he leave at all? Where had he gone?
"Shawn!" Cheri's agitation was obvious in her voice as she whirled to follow him, even as the coordinates of Marek's exit location popped up for Shawn to use, the spell locking onto the unconcealed jump-trail. Not overly far away, but at the end of Marek's current tether.
"Come on, we're leaving," he said tersely, gesturing her over, still working the wizardry.
"The others are gone! He's taken them somewhere. Let's GO!"
Grabbing ahold of her, he sped through the final phrases of the wizardry, Cheri's widening eyes testament to her shock. "He-"
Her words were cut off as the world shifted for a split second, the air around them seeming to compress and quiver. Everything went black, the world fading from view in another clap of thunder, as the forms of Arcanine and human winked out of existence.
Jasmine blinked in confusion as she was jolted into wakefulness, her mind crawling back into awareness from the pseudo-sleep of her chamber. Strange. The fact that she still felt tired indicated that it hadn't been long since she had been returned to her ball, the nocturnal darkness of the world around her confirming the assumption.
"Master?" She was much more used to using that term now. It had been strange at first, but it was necessary. She started to turn towards her trainer in confusion, seeing no immediate threat that she would have been summoned to face. 'Why-'
Her thoughts fled like a swarm of Digletts, fleeing the brilliant flare of agony going off in her mind, her body's warnings of the damage to her defences screaming at her as... something... slammed against her aura. Vaguely, she registered herself flying off into the dark, hurled by the invisible blow from behind.
She managed to retain enough focus to whirl, flaring her concentration to halt herself before smashing against a tree, facing her attacker. 'That was no move I am familiar with...'
Her master was nowhere to be seen, and neither was any other pokémon. Instead, the one called Marek stood stock-still across from her, staring at her with a stricken expression on his face, his finger half raised to point at her as if in accusation.
He looked like he was about to be sick, as corporeal beings sometimes were, his normally pale face pasty and drawn in the moonlight, her excellent night vision picking up every detail. For some unknown reason, he had Master Shawn's belt clenched in his fist, the shaking of his hand obvious in the sinuous, wraith-like dance the dangling ends of the strip of leather were performing.
Confusion fogged her mind, the image incongruous with what had just happened to her. Surely this timid, clumsy person couldn't be her attacker. The brief whirl of emotions she had received from his mind earlier had been completely at odds with such behaviour. He-
His lips moved, his finger stabbing at her again.
She cried out as another invisible blow impacted against her, the powerful attack almost overwhelming her aura, somehow setting the sensations of pain in her mind ablaze, even with the protection of her shielding. This was different than getting hit in battle, those didn't hurt like this. This was something... instantly lethal, punching against her body right through the veil of her aura, the barrier the only thing preventing... whatever it was... from doing what it was intended to.
There was no doubt anymore, the whirlwind of facts howling through her mind even as she steadied herself once more, the tree behind her stopping her from flying too far. The why didn't matter. He was trying to prematurely force her into the plain of light. It was not yet time for that. She would NOT make it easy for him!
He let out a choked sound as she hovered towards him, her eyes narrowed in concentration. If he fought like Master did, her normal attacks would be useless. However, he did not know how to defend his mind like Master did, so this should be easy. Her aura fluttered weakly, a bare fraction remaining to protect her, sending a pulse of what she could only define as 'fear' through her.
She whirled sideways as his lips moved again, now associating this action with the invisible attack. Something brushed past her, an explosion somewhere behind her registering briefly in her mind as she closed the distance between them, locking her gaze with his.
His eyes were wide and fearful, and he stumbled back from her, his lips starting to move once more. She didn't give him a chance, putting everything she had been taught to use, spearing her way into his mind.
Her ethereal shriek into his head disrupted his focus, his clapping of his hands over his ears doing nothing to stop her assault, a yell ripping from his throat.
"Why! Why do you do this?" she shouted mentally, watching carefully for any mutterings that would bring more of the deadly blows. Her tendril of consciousness surged forward into the open link, reaching in to wrest control from him.
He was not caught by surprise this time, she could feel him futilely trying to beat her back as she stormed through the halls of his mind, his weak attempts no comparison to the strong resistance she always felt from her trainer.
"Why won't you die!" his mind voice whined, with a hint of a sob behind it. "Three spells, and you won't die! You have to d-die." His physical body was trembling, a hint of a tear in his watery blue eyes. Her mental grip was vice tight to keep him from further action, his attempts to push her away not achieving much at the moment.
His ignorance astounded her. Had he assumed his magic would kill her that simply? How powerful was this thing he had used, that he would expect such instant result? Or perhaps her aura was simply more powerful than he had expected, saving her from this... instant death.
"Why?" she probed, feeling him squirm under her ethereal fingers. She did not have the expertise to fully control his body, but she was able to at least prevent him from doing so as well.
Thoughts and emotions whirled by her like a hurricane, the range he was experiencing all at once making any one of them difficult to pick out. This was far more complicated than reading the empathic essences, something impossible to do in the corporeal plain. Fear, anger, grief, reluctance, self-loathing, more fear. All of these were waging war inside of him, none of them really giving her a good sense of what he was truly aiming to do, or his reasons.
He groaned mentally in response, and she could feel his resolve firming against her. "I-I HAVE to. It has to be you. I can't kill him, so it has to be you. I have to! Master ordered it!" There was the fear again, like a foul smell permeating his entire mind. This seemed to be his driving force, a resigned fear of... something. The self-loathing was almost as strong though. Perhaps she could use that.
"Why must you? I-" she cut off, tightening her focus as his struggles increased. He was fighting against her like a cornered Poochyena, his face a rictus, eyes wild. Her mouth set in a firm line, now having difficulty restraining him. By Arceus! His desperation was making up for his lack of skill.
She dug in determinedly, feeling her grip on his mind straining. 'Must... hang... on...'
The air whooshed from her lungs, her physical body affected by the sudden punch to her stomach, her aura only keeping it from being overly damaging. She cried out as he broke away, her hold on his body shattered completely as she was shoved back from him.
Desperately, she scrabbled for his mind again, seeing his lips start to move once more, no hope of dodging at this close range.
Marek's eyes suddenly widened, a thunderclap from behind her precluding his attack, the man falling backward onto his rear with a horrified expression. Something invisible slammed down between them, a rush of air and a shudder in the ground below the only signs of its presence.
Shawn held firmly to the wall of air between the two, the moon illuminating this large clearing nicely, shocked at the scene before him. Marek had been forming an attack spell!? He strode forward, Cheri bounding alongside him with a growl, stabbing his blade at the other wizard accusingly. He could see his belt in Marek's hand as he scrambled to his feet, a frantic look on the other wizard's face, a shield pulsing around him. "Oh shit!"
"What are you DOING?!" He glanced at his pokémon, checking her for injury as he approached, still trying to comprehend what he had just seen.
Jasmine turned to face him, looking relieved and exhausted. His pokédex was still in his bag, but it was easy to tell the ghost didn't have much left.
His eyes narrowed to chips of ice, cold anger surging through him like a glacial river. Marek... No... He HAD to have an explanation for this. 'But it better be a damn good one!'
With a strangled cry, Marek muttered something in The Speech, the matrix of another teleport spell wrapping rapidly around him.
"Hey!" Shawn sprinted forward, locking onto him with a fist of Air, reaching for the residues with his tracking wizardry.
Neither the shout nor the hardened air held him in place, his form shimmering, before vanishing with that familiar thunderclap.
Shawn cursed as he and his mate reached Jasmine's side, Cheri snarling viciously. "Shawn, if he's running from us..." She didn't have to finish the statement. He knew EXACTLY how bad this looked.
His mind was a vortex, trying to rationalize. No... no... it COULDN'T be. It wasn't possible. Yet the facts were staring him in the face, Jasmine gazing at him tiredly, the horrific image of Marek about to release that spell at her staining his mind.
'He's dark. Marek is dark. I trusted him, and he's dark.'
He gulped in air, some part of him still trying to deny, but quickly being overwhelmed by angry realization. Marek was a traitor. In the DBW itself. A traitor. It was sickening.
"Jasmine, are you alright?"
She nodded slowly, looking downcast. "Master, he attempted to destroy me. We must follow him, he still has the others."
Fear stabbed through him, this fact suddenly leaping to the forefront of his mind. Kirin. Hina. Marty. The image of Marek releasing them one by one, the pokémon completely trusting of the one who had been their travel companion, taking them by surprise...
Cheri howled in anger, slashing the ground with her claws, little sparks leaping dangerously from her maw. "If he so much as TOUCHES my pups..."
No time. No time to continue talking. He sheathed his sword as he frantically slapped together the teleportation wizardry, grabbing roughly ahold of both Cheri and Jasmine, the ghost letting out a squeak of surprise as he bundled her lightweight body under his arm. Marek still had Jasmine's ball, he would have to jump with her too.
Following the scars of Marek's jump, the world flickered away...
Tree bark appeared directly in front of his face as the blackness faded, making him step back, releasing his hold on Cheri's mane. Jasmine relaxed limply in his iron grip, accepting her undignified position with tired grace.
"Where is he?" Cheri snarled, looking around frantically, ready to roast the other wizard on sight. "Is this the place?"
Shawn spun on his heel, reaching through his sword to light the area, shadowed wooden pillars leaping into clarity along with... there! Another jump scar! The revealing spell showed it with perfect detail. He still wasn't trying to hide his trail. He was that agitated?
"Jumped again, come on!" he shouted, Cheri whirling to follow him with bared fangs as he crossed over to the spot, grabbing onto the sense left by the residues. Jasmine silently bore the indignity of being carried like a football, allowing him to work as he would.
'I can't let him have time! If he has any time...' Blackness again, as the spell took hold, yanking them through the fabric of space and time to another place.
More trees, another scar, another jump. Marek really was jumping randomly, not even setting coordinates to avoid obstacles, as this jump put them down on top of a massive boulder. Cheri almost slipped off the edge, barking in alarm, until he grabbed her with a fist of air. He didn't have to search for the next jump trail, it was right in front of him, Marek obviously not taking the time to hang around balancing on this precipice.
"Thanks Master," Cheri said, peering cautiously down. It was a significant fall, it would have hurt.
"Any time dear," he said absently, already forming their next jump. They were only a moment behind him! These jumps weren't very far, he was trying to buy himself time.
Another flicker, a grassy hill, another teleport trail. Cheri growled in frustration. "How long can he keep this up?!"
Shawn wondered the same. His own power reserves were lowering with each jump too, so he had a vague idea of how much Marek had left. He figured at most, six or so, leaving some energy left over, give or take, depending on how far he went each time.
A short jump this time, leaving them in the middle of more trees. No scar. 'Did he conceal it?' Even Jasmine's small amount of weight was beginning to tire his arm, and he shifted his grip on her absently. The Ghost type let out a sigh. "Master, I believe your mate would not be pleased if she saw how you are now holding me," she said into his mind.
He glanced down briefly, seeing that his hand had shifted, and was now underneath her 'skirt', in a much warmer place than it had been a moment ago. Heat rushed to his face, and he shifted his hand with an embarrassed mutter of apology in his mind. Her soft chuckle filled his head as he strode forwards, searching the surrounding trees, Cheri looking around like she wanted to start blasting things randomly.
Suddenly, a loud thunderclap came from behind him, a short ways off into the forest. Cheri and he whirled as one, his mate letting out a roar as they raced towards the noise, Shawn keeping pace with her by powering his legs with Earth, dodging around the great wooden obelisks that rushed towards them from the darkness.
He skidded to a halt, the purple fog of a wizardry coming into view, filling the space between some of the tall trunks. Cheri kept running for a moment, before realizing he had stopped, whirling and sliding, digging in her claws to prevent herself from falling over.
"DAMN him!" Shawn swore, rage threatening to break through his control, the fog indistinct and blurred. He lit the clearing anyway, but it was no use. He had obscured it, the tracker had nothing to lock onto now.
"What?! Where did he go?" Cheri asked, stalking towards him with a hunter's deadly grace, anger written all over her features.
Shawn stabbed his finger at the fog only he could see, drawing a squeak from Jasmine as he tightened his grip unwittingly. He relented immediately, muttering another apology in his mind. "He's covered his tracks. Now I can't-" He cut off. Wait, Marek still had his belt! That meant...
Cheri's keening howl cut into his thoughts, the Arcanine spinning in a tight circle as if chasing her tail, taking out her frustration by slashing out at a nearby tree, cutting long gashes in the bark. "No! We can't lose him! Find him!"
"We haven't lost him yet! He's forgotten something, now quiet!" Shawn shouted back, his urgency making his voice curt, cutting off Cheri's snarls of rage as her eyes narrowed to laser beams of immolating jade.
Shutting his eyes, he quested out into the fog, not looking, but feeling. If he was right about this, then... He focused on seeking out a particular set of sensations. Marty, the one who'd been with him the longest: happy, bubbly, innocent, protective, caring. And sleepiness too, he was still in his ball. All that was him, that had been yanked along with Marek on his journey. Those 'impressions' of the teleported person were always left behind in jump scar, and were hard to obscure, but you had to know the person well enough to be able to pick up on it. If you could...
There! It was faint, but there it was! He froze, locking in on the after-image, following its progress through the jump, and... His eyes flew open, already muttering the phrases.
"You found them?" Cheri questioned, her rumbling growl making her voice harsh.
He didn't respond with words, he simply grabbed onto her shoulder, dropping the final phrase into place. The trees faded into a sea of blackness once more.
He stared down at the sphere in his hand, the yellow and white one this time, trying to work up the courage to press the release button. This was much, much harder than he had anticipated. That ghost thing hadn't died with a single killing spell like he had anticipated, and as the seconds had dragged on, the second spell also failing...
He swallowed hard, his hand trembling as it gripped the ball. To have her looking at him, the knowledge of what he had been trying to do written on her face as she came towards him, trying to save herself... That had been horrible. And now, with these ones here... that likable little yellow pokémon and her sister...
No, couldn't think of their names. Mustn't do that, or he'd never be able to do it. He let out a sob, shoulders heaving. He wasn't cut out for this! That look on her face, that look of betrayal... If these ones also looked at him as he tried to...
'I... I thought this would be EASIER than trying to kill... Shawn.'
But... he had no choice. His master... If he didn't do this, that One would be coming for him. That One owned him. He had to do this.
The roar of the waterfall was loud in his ears as he got to his feet. He had nearly fallen off the edge, his hurried second jump taking him right to the precipice, staring down at the jagged stone teeth at the bottom of the drop. Shawn would never find him now. He was safe from that at least. He had hidden in the trees as he constructed his wizardry with more care, concealing the trails as best he could. Not his strong suit, but he knew he had managed it, even though he had panicked when Shawn jumped in, and forgotten to stifle the sound.
He looked down at the sphere once more, steeling himself. There was no way around it. Maybe if he closed his eyes, he wouldn't see her face... How did the others do it? Kill so easily? Maybe it was because they didn't know the ones they were killing. Maybe because they didn't have to watch their faces as they killed them, watch that horrible realization of what was happening. He didn't want her to look at him...
His thumb hovered over the button, a sob racking his body as he started to slowly press with the lightest of pressure, a hairsbreadth from opening the device...
Of course! That would save him from having to do it himself! He wouldn't even have to release them from their balls, he could just toss the belt over and be done with it! Then they couldn't look at him. He wouldn't have to see their faces. They would simply die, not knowing what had killed them. Surely a fall from here would be enough, these things couldn't be THAT strong. Even if they somehow survived it, how would Shawn manage to get it back? He jerked his hand from the release button as if it had suddenly bitten him, relief coursing through him. Yes, yes, this would work.
He strode towards the edge, the full moon the only witness to say that his shaking ceased as he firmed his resolve. "Yes Master, I'm doing it now Master. You won't have to punish me Master, they'll die. He won't be able to stop it now Master."
A thunderclap rent the night air behind him, like a bell tolling his impending doom.
He froze mid-step. No... Impossible. He had hidden his trail. Shawn couldn't have found him.
The shout freed him from his paralysis. He started sprinting, aiming for the edge. If he had followed him even now, running was pointless. He had to finish his task! He had to!
He was suddenly on his back, staring up at the star-studded sky. Dimly, his mind registered that he had bounced off something invisible, throwing him down hard. It probably would have hurt if he hadn't been shielded.
He tried to push himself to his feet, fighting the utter hopelessness that was consuming him. He was already dead. The one he had desired for all these years was going to kill him. He had no chance against him. Somehow, he had to find a way to complete his task!
With a roar, an orange and black furred goddess of vengeance was upon him, slamming him back to the ground, claws raking across his shield. Her enraged visage filled his vision, massive fangs inches away as she howled her fury into his face, an inferno smouldering inside her maw as she transfixed him with her eyes. He gasped for air, primal fear coursing through him, even with his wizardry protecting him. He'd never liked dogs, and this...
"How DARE you! If you've even TOUCHED my pups, you'd best hope Arceus has mercy on you, because-"
Shawn's shout cut her off, the other human running towards them. "Cheri! Let me handle this!"
She snarled fiercely, not releasing him from the daggers of her eyes, her claws trying futilely to shred through his shield. "No! He-"
With a choked cry, Marek expanded the perimiter of his shield, throwing her off of him. He jumped to his feet, catching sight of Shawn only a few metres away, sword extended threateningly. The ghost was hovering behind him, a bit to the side, watching the conflict with narrowed eyes.
Shawn's shield pulsed like the sun to his eyes, obviously with more strength in it now. He would never touch him through that. The moonlight and glow from Shawn's sword lit his face, anger and betrayal marring his visage. 'He knows...'
The Arcanine had rolled back to her feet with another terrifying roar, preparing to spring at him again, but was suddenly halted by an invisible hand.
"Let me handle this!" Shawn repeated to her, still glaring at him.
"Let me go! I'm going to tear him apart!" she growled.
"NO! I have to question him first!" Shawn took a step forward, closing the gap between them a bit further, looking like a judge about to pronounce sentence.
'I'm dead. I'm already dead. I HAVE to finish my mission though!'
The Arcanine's protests ceased, along with her struggles, but she continued to growl and snarl menacingly, gouging the earth with her claws as Shawn released her. She looked like it took every ounce of her willpower not to ignore Shawn's command and come at him again, but for now at least, she settled for a fuming glare, eyeing him like some tiny prey that had had the impudence to intrude upon her territory.
He gulped, breaking away from her gaze and turning back to the other, equally menacing, threat. Sheer terror and crawling self-disgust waged a pitched battle inside him. He felt like a burnt out husk, seeing that horrible look of betrayal on Shawn's face.
'It's over. It's all over. Everything I might have had... it's gone.' This mission had destroyed everything for him. But he still had to try. He had to find a way. As much as he feared Shawn's wrath, that One...
Shawn wasn't even forming any wizardries yet, he was just watching warily with that hurt look on his face, ready to react. That was almost worse in some ways. Screaming rage would have been easier to take. That might still come though, if he could just figure out a way to distract him long enough...
Shawn held his sword at the ready, keeping a close eye on Marek, should he start forming any wizardries, and Cheri as well, making sure she didn't pounce again. He wasn't afraid she'd kill Marek, the other wizard was also still shielded after all, but he wanted her out of the line of fire if things got dicey.
The anger was fading somewhat, to be replaced by... sadness.
'Marek is dark.'
That one thought kept replaying itself over and over in his mind, Marek's questions from earlier now making a bit more sense.
Other puzzle pieces clicked into place now. His lack of preparation for this mission, his unwillingness to talk about himself, his skittishness... Was anything about him even real? He'd been leading a double life all this time, to culminate in this? Had he been meant to find out about Marek's 'crush'? Was it merely another ploy? A ruse to divert suspicion?
'Where an obvious evil failed, a second, more insidious one might have succeeded.' Someone he trusted enough to allow them close, and when he dropped his guard... Except that he hadn't. It was a chilling reminder to never become complacent. Nash hadn't killed him, so Marek had been sent. It all made perfect sense. Questions abounded though, and he wouldn't be satisfied until they were answered. Maybe he even could end this without a fight.
'He doesn't look threatening, he just looks... scared.' Shawn recognized that look. It was the look of someone discovering that killing was no simple thing, finding that it was something deeply scarring, that would change you for the rest of your life.
He let out a long sigh, holding out his free hand. "Give me the belt Marek."
Somehow, Marek seemed to pale even further, clutching the belt to his chest and taking a stumbling step backwards. "N-no. I... I can't!"
"Yes you can. Think about what you're doing! Do you really want to hurt them Marek?"
Cheri roared, advancing a step, halting only because he held up his hand. If she attacked again now, everything could go south. "Let them go!" she snarled.
Marek looked on the brink of tears, taking another step back. "I... I have to!"
Time to prod that sensitivity a bit more. "No Marek, you don't have to. You always have a choice, no matter what the Lone One may tell you. Give. Me. The. Belt."
He let out a sob, holding the belt up and shaking it. "You don't understand! I don't have a choice! It was supposed to be you that died!" Cheri's rumbling growl grew louder at this, making Marek glance warily at her before continuing. "B-but... You... I didn't want to, but I had to do it! That One owns me, Shawn."
"That's a lie Marek. That One doesn't own anything. It only likes to pretend it does. The only things it 'owns' are the things it convinces you of. It's jealous. It can't create, so it steals."
Marek shook his head vehemently, the belt shaking in his death-grip, as if it were his only hope of survival. "No... no... You don't understand. I... I swore Shawn. I swore it in The Speech."
An icy chill ran down Shawn's spine. Marek had actually gone so far... No. It didn't matter. No one was beyond hope. He could still come back, if he really wanted to. "You always have a choice Marek. It's in the Light book itself, a definition of what IS. Think about this. Are you really going to hurt Hina? Or Kirin? Or Marty? Don't let that One deceive you into doing what it wants."
"I HAVE to! I-I'm sorry Shawn... I-I c-can't! It was supposed to be you, b-but you were always shielded, a-and... It h-has to b-be them!" He looked like at any moment he would keel over and empty the contents of his stomach, but a grim acceptance lurked behind it, a determination to succeed.
Unfortunately, the mention of the others was enough to set Cheri off again. With an enraged snarl, she broke free of the flimsy leash of his command, charging towards Marek in a blur of rippling muscle and flowing fur, dancing sparks trailing behind her, a torrent of flames streaming from her maw.
"CHERI!" Shawn yelled, grabbing her again in a grip of air, hauling her out of her reckless attack.
With a strangled shout, Marek muttered a phrase in the speech, even as his form was hidden by the inferno burning against his shield, another teleport spell whipping up around him. Shawn let go of Cheri, lashing out with the still active tracking spell, snaring the residues with a snarl of his own, anger once more taking the lead of his emotions.
'He's STILL trying!'
But surprisingly, even as the echoing thunderclap of Marek's jump rent the air, he reappeared, right on the edge of the cliff, facing away from them. A surge of adrenaline burst through him, an angry shout coming from his lungs, Marek's intent now crystal clear. Time seemed to slow, as Marek pulled back the arm holding the belt, clearly preparing to hurl it over the edge.
A hammer of Air sent Marek flying sideways, Cheri's furious battle cry sounding loud in the night air as she raced forward once more, Jasmine also summoning the strength to join in the fray...
'Too late!' Just as he was struck, Marek let go of the belt, the strip of leather with it's vivid spheres spinning off over the edge, even as Marek himself slammed to the ground from the blow, a killing spell forming in his hand.
"No!" Shawn clutched at the tiny object with a fist of Air, willing it into his grasp...
Only to have it slip past... falling... Cheri skidding to a halt to watch in horror, a keening howl escaping her...
Marek released the deadly spell, forcing Shawn to slam a wall of Air in place to protect Jasmine, just as the ghost reached the cliff edge. Marek's spell was nowhere near Nash's level, the wall holding firm with a slight shudder, protecting the ghost as she shimmered with psychic power....
None of them moved for a split second, Cheri, Shawn and Marek fixated on the Mismagius, Shawn keeping his wall firmly in place to guard her against further attacks.
With agonizing slowness, the belt crept back into view, Jasmine's gems pulsing slightly as she strained to hold on. Shawn let out a shout of relief, followed immediately by an anguished wail from Marek, the swirls of another wizardry springing up around his sprawled form. The fall itself wouldn't have hurt the pokémon in the balls, but if they opened or broke, even though Marty would have probably been fine, Kirin and Hina might have been...
There was no holding Cheri back now. Even as Jasmine deposited the belt safely on the cliff edge, bowing her head in exhaustion, the Arcanine let out an earth shaking roar.
"YOU...!" The rest of whatever she had been about to say trailed off in a furious snarl.
Marek struggled to his feet as Cheri... ignited. That was the only way Shawn could think to describe it. Her form blurred in an incredible rush of speed and a flare of brilliant flames, leaving behind a shimmering afterimage, just as Marek's spell shattered harmlessly against the wall of Air around Jasmine.
Shawn could scarcely believe what he was seeing; Cheri's anger fuelling her to push her abilities to a previously unseen maximum, even as he pelted forwards in an Earth enhanced sprint, ready to assist his mate... and prevent her from going too far. There was a brief glimmer of motion in the burning streak that was Cheri as she changed direction, paralleling the cliff side and pouncing upon her target.
The tangled forms of human and Arcanine were barely visible through the flying, violent inferno that Cheri had become, as she collided with Marek at full speed, bringing him down with all the righteous fury of a mother protecting her children.
Shawn skidded to a halt next to the tussling pair, the heat wave from her mighty attack washing past him as the flames winked out, revealing the sight of Cheri snarling and biting at Marek as he squealed in fear, holding his hands up in front of his face. His shield was protecting him still, but it looked pretty weakened from whatever it was Cheri had just done, a few hairline cracks spider webbing along it.
With a snort, Shawn pulled her back again with a firm grip of Air, his mate growling and roaring, still trying to get at the trembling human as Shawn finished the shield off with a concentrated hammer blow of Air. A bout of uncontrollable spasms held Marek in place, the shock of his shield shattering stunning him briefly, as Shawn muttered the words for a spell lock.
"Let. Go. Of. Me!" Cheri snarled, legs pedaling fiercely as she tried to break free of his grip.
Shawn touched Marek's shoulder to slap the spell lock in place, slightly modified to allow Marek to move. The inverted shield would prevent him from forming wizardries, even if he could still speak. He still had questions to ask. "Cheri... It's over," he said simply as he straightened.
"You saw what he did!"
"I know, but they're safe Cheri." He stepped to her side, still holding her in place, but calming her with a touch of his hand on her cheek, her growls fading finally, her struggles ceasing. "He's harmless now, and they're safe."
The fire still raged in her eyes, but she seemed to be willing to listen at least, and he decided it was safe to let her go. She huffed as her paws touched solid ground again, baring her fangs. "That spawn of Darkrai..."
"I know, I know," he murmured in her ear, hugging her tight. "Just... please, let me deal with him."
It took a moment for her to respond, but he finally felt her relax into his embrace slightly. "Alright, but he is NOT getting away with this!"
"Of course not."
The danger to his captive now past, Shawn turned back to the other human, folding his arms as Marek got to his feet, a dejected look on the other wizard's face. Anger simmered inside him still, but he kept it under firm control. 'I will NOT kill in cold blood again!'
"What am I going to do with you?"
Marek didn't answer, staring at his feet. The spray from the waterfall drifted across them, beading upon and sliding down Shawn's shield, a tendril of steam rising from Cheri as she literally cooled off a bit.
It was still hard to fathom. Marek, a dark wizard. A servant of the Lone Power, in the DBW itself. He felt... drained, even though he hadn't exhausted his magical reserves. "How long Marek?" he asked, feeling the melancholy set in again, the adrenaline fading. Such a waste of talent, to put it to use for the Lone One's purposes...
"S-since my ordeal."
"That long?! You've been working against us the entire time?"
Marek met his steady gaze finally, anguish written on his face, droplets of mist mixing with a couple tears as he nodded. "M-more or less. I-I... I mostly just... reported. T-They didn't w-want me t-to give myself away. But... this time was... d-different."
He looked around fearfully, as if at any moment he expected one of the surrounding shadows to rear up and claim him. "H-he came to me. Personally. Before you even left. J-just like he did on my ordeal. H-he told me to k-kill you. Stop you from completing your mission. Or else. He told me where you had imprisoned... N-Nash, and commanded me to f-free him. B-but... he also told me to come myself, if the first attempt failed."
Another mystery solved. So THAT was how Nash had broken free so soon after being imprisoned last time. Something else tickled the back of his memory, something that hadn't seemed significant at the time...
"When I got here, the power cap bracelet I was given almost fatally drained me. That was no accident, was it?"
Marek shook his head, burying his face in his hands. "N-no. I... B-before I freed Nash..." He shuddered at the mention of the name, obviously reliving whatever trauma he had gone through to free such a pure form of evil... Or perhaps just the experience of meeting Nash himself.
"I-I thought that might work, so I wouldn't have to... t-to... T-then, later... H-he spoke to me again, saying that you were s-still alive, and that if you got any further, h-he would..." He trailed off, clearly not wanting to recall whatever horror the Lone One had promised he would suffer if he should fail.
It was hard to summon anger at this... broken shell of a man. He had been lured by whatever promises the Lone One had made, and had chosen poorly. Still though, the ruthlessness of what he had tried to accomplish...
"You never would have gotten permission to use a gate then, since you weren't on a mission. Did you hack a public one?"
"No. I-I had the finder for you. I used the out of ambit space."
"There?! I guess that makes sense, but... that place is almost impossible to navigate." With the active finder though, Marek would have been able to puzzle out the location of this dimension. Eventually.
Marek chuckled hollowly. "It was... dark. N-not fun."
One more burning question outweighed all the others in importance. "Who else Marek?"
The other wizard looked a bit perplexed, snivelling as he stared back with a look of utter hopelessness in his eyes. "Wh-What do you mean?"
"Who else in the DBW is dark?"
He shook his head vehemently. "N-no. There's no one else."
A flash of cold anger almost overwhelmed Shawn, but he forced it down enough to just let it show through, not consume him. This question was too important to leave to trust in Marek's word. With a shout, he leapt forwards, pressing his blade to Marek's neck, making the other wizard stagger back in surprise. Shawn grabbed the collar of his shirt, glaring into his shock-filled eyes as he snarled, "Don't you DARE lie to me! Say it in The Speech!"
"Ahh! I-" Marek wailed, struggling to speak as the cold steel pressed against his throat. It was easily enough though, any kind of resistance he may have still possessed crumbling like an egg shell. "N-no. Just me. I'm the only one at the watch."
Shawn nodded curtly in acknowledgement, releasing him as the tension drained away, feeling relieved. 'So. There are no others then. At least there's that.' Marek did not possess the fortitude to risk the consequences of lying in The Speech. Assuming there weren't others unknown to Marek of course...
No, he refused to believe that there would be more. It didn't seem to make sense. Any dark agent would need to actively work against the Lone One to keep their cover, helping the watch do its job, as Marek had for years. A bit counter-productive. Which put extreme importance on this, that he would be sent to kill him NOW, in this world. 'The Lone Power is pulling out all the stops to prevent me from messing up his plans here. Just how important IS this place?'
Marek stumbled backwards, rubbing his neck and eyeing him fearfully. "A-are you g-going to..."
"No Marek, I'm not going to kill you. I meant what I said earlier. You can still come back."
"No, he can NOT!" Cheri growled, stepping forward menacingly, tiny embers escaping from between her bared fangs . "Not after what he's done! He deserves to burn!"
Shawn sighed, placating her with a soothing touch. Of course, she didn't have the context for his statement, he and Marek's earlier conversation had been in The Speech. "I said NO Cheri. Besides, I didn't mean it like that. We can't kill him, even if he serves Darkrai. That would make us no better. He still deserves a chance to redeem himself. He isn't like Nash."
"I know, but still..." she rumbled, calming under his caress. "What are you going to do with him?"
"N-no. I-I'm sorry Shawn," Marek sobbed, cutting off his response. "It's... too late for me. I can't go back. I can't. H-he owns me. You can't beat him. No matter how powerful you are. You can't. H-he has plans within plans, you can never beat him. And I... I-I h-have nothing now."
Shawn shook his head vehemently, denying the statement. "No Marek, no matter what you swore, you can still come back."
Marek took another step back, seeming resigned. "I-I'm sorry Shawn. I-I can't. I... I really d-did... like... you."
It took a moment for Shawn to latch onto the past tense of Marek's words, as he now realized just how close to the edge the three of them were standing... "No, don't!"
With an air of finality, Marek took that final, fatal step, teetering on the precipice for the briefest of moments, a look of resigned anguish on his face, before tumbling backwards, no sound escaping him but a soft sigh. All that could be heard was the rushing of the waterfall, as the other wizard plummeted away into darkness.
The stunned silence seemed somehow louder than the falls. He was gone. From this height, there was almost no chance of survival. He was gone, and it felt... 'Why didn't I stop him?'
"D-did he really just..." Cheri trailed off, sounding shaken in spite of her earlier threats to do the deed herself.
"Yes...yes he did," Shawn replied hollowly. 'Marek...'
Like a knife to the chest, that's how it felt.
"That is... regrettable," Jasmine murmured, joining them and depositing the belt at Shawn's feet. "He seemed... tormented, when I touched his mind. Perhaps now he will be at peace."
Shawn didn't respond, forcing his feet to move. He had to know, he had to be sure. Maybe... He peered over the edge, the thundering falls almost, but not quite, obscuring the sickening view of a broken form lying on the rocks below. No. There was no doubt.
He turned away from the grisly sight, a deep sadness filling him as he returned to his mate's side, picking up the recovered belt. Marek hadn't really been a friend, and had turned out to be a traitor, but still... 'I should have stopped him. I should have stopped him. Why didn't I stop him?'
"I... I certainly hope so. May he find peace in Timeheart. Goodbye... Marek."
Music for this chapter: http://www.partyrockpeople.com/view.aspx?id=28250